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Is It Poetry?

Is It Poetry?

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By Toshiko Hirata
Translated by Spencer Thurlow & Eric E. Hyett

A profound collection of poetry from Japanese poet Toshiko Hirata, expounding on readership and everyday life.

Publication Date: January 23, 2024

Paperback: 9781646052738
eBook: 9781646052943


Produced on the same day each month over the course of two years, every poem in Is It Poetry? (a pun also meaning "the seventh day" in Japanese) is a window into everyday life in Japan. Toshiko Hirata's poems evoke awe and light in the daily minutiae of contemporary life, achieving both prosody and narrative cohesion colored by her dark yet warm artistic sensibility. Beloved and awarded in Japan, Hirata possesses an extraordinary ability to turn an ordinary event like an old man cycling through a park into a journey that elucidates something profound.

This translation offers entry into a busy Tokyo brimming with puns, imagery, sounds, and whimsy and asks what is to cherished, feared, loved—and what is not.

Biographical Note

Hirata Toshiko is one of Japan’s best-known contemporary poets, as well as a renowned playwright and author of seventeen novels. She is associated with the ‘women’s boom’ in contemporary Japanese literature. Her collection, Shinanoka (Tokyo, Shichōsha, 2004), or, Is It Poetry? earned Hirata the Hagiwara Sakutarō Prize for poetry.

Eric E. Hyett and Spencer Thurlow are a poetry translation team from Massachusetts. Their first translated book, Sonic Peace by contemporary female Japanese poet Kiriu Minashita (Phoneme Media, 2018), was shortlisted for the 2018 National Translation Award and the 2018 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize. Their translations and essays have appeared in Granta, The Georgia Review, World Literature Today, Modern Poetry in Translation, Pendemics, Transference, The Cincinnati Review.


"In Hirata’s poetry, all states of nonbeing are possible, including ambiguous ones…Hirata is something of a poet-trickster—but the book is so enjoyable that it’s easy to forgive her for laughing at the reader’s expense." —Janani Ambikapathy, Poetry Foundation (Harriet Books)

“Toshiko Hirata is one of Japan’s most beloved poets, whose work is powerful, lyrical, weird, and—just as importantly—funny. We are so lucky to have this collection translated by two people who couldn’t be better suited to the task. Hyett and Thurlow turn every phrase to maximize the surprise and delight so central to the experience of Hirata’s poems. Not only that, Is It Poetry? is one of the most striking poetry collections to reflect on the sometimes arduous, sometimes bizarre process of poetry writing itself; the reader ends up rooting for the protagonist to write the very words they are reading. Wonderful stuff.” —Andrew Campana

“Beginning with the inspired rendering of the title and running throughout this beautiful volume, Hyett and Thurlow convey in their translation the humor and poignancy of Hirata’s original and are truly deserving of the William F. Sibley award for this collection. Sometimes we may ask of translated poetry, ‘Is it poetry?’ and here the answer is a resounding yes.” —Sarah Frederick